Duncan Keith

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Mike Green, NHL points co-leader, and other odd early stats

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Here’s a sign that it’s very early in an NHL season: two defensemen are among the league’s scoring leaders, and their names aren’t Brent Burns or Erik Karlsson.

Nope, instead, there are five players tied for first in the league with eight points before Friday’s games kick off: Alex Ovechkin, Alex Pietrangelo, Evgeny Kuznetsov, Ryan Hartman, and Mike Green. Pietrangelo and Hartman have played five games while Green and the Ovechkin – Kuznetsov combo have been on a roll for four.

Kuznetsov and Green both subsist off assists with eight, while Ovechkin’s mind-blowing sniping gives him eight goals and zero helpers through a week-plus.

Yep, pretty weird stuff.

Consider this a little time capsule of trends that (cough) might not last through the entire 2017-18 season. Not that it wouldn’t be fun for Green to finish with 164 assists and Ovechkin to hit 164 goals, mind you.

That would call for an HBO 24/7-inspired joy ride reunion, eh?

Um, anyway …

Snakebitten

While the season is young, we’re also at the point where fans are starting to get impatient with struggling stars/important players. Let’s take a look at some guys with high shooting volume and no goals to show for it.

Morgan Rielly and Jonathan Drouin: 17 SOG apiece in four games, zero goals.

Rick Nash and Charles Hudon: 16 SOG in four GP, zero goals.

Jakob Silfverberg and Duncan Keith: 15 SOG, zero goals.

Taylor Hall: 14 SOG, zero goals.

Poor Rick Nash. Considering his crazy-low career playoff shooting percentage numbers, he might be worthy of induction into an imaginary Hall of Fame for bad bounces.

Anyway, it’s one thing for defensemen to have low shooting percentage numbers; Rielly and Keith could both enjoy fine seasons, even if they continue to shoot at a low clip (though zero percent would, naturally, be infuriating). Those forwards, on the other hand, should start getting some breaks.

Drouin must be especially steamed, as he’s likely dying to score his first goal in a Montreal Canadiens uniform, what with the big trade and big extension. If you need further evidence that the Habs are better than their scoring stats would indicate, consider that promising forward Hudon is similarly stalled despite firing four SOG per game.

(It’s still confounding that the Vegas Golden Knights balked on Hudon. But that’s the NHL.)

GWG

Whoa, Brandon Saad and James Neal both already have three game-winning goals. Last season, Rickard Rakell was the only guy in double digits with 10, so Neal and Saad afforded themselves two tremendous head-starts.

(They have a solid chance of sticking at the top of those rankings if they stay healthy.)

Fun with goalies

These goalies are likely to see plenty of time, even as backups, so three perfect save percentages might not last very long: Laurent Brossoit (on 19 saves) along with Aaron Dell and Anton Khudobin (nine apiece).

As far as goalies who’ve seen more than relief duty, here are three who should settle down a bit, even if they’re in position to possibly have strong seasons:

Sergei Bobrovsky – .985 save percentage in two games

Marc-Andre Fleury – Remarkable .963 in 3GP

Corey Crawford – .956, and he’s done it in four. (Jimmy Howard‘s right behind him with .955 in three.)

Conversely, here are four goalies who seem quite likely to rise above the 90 percent mark as the season goes along:

Frederik Andersen – .871 save percentage in 4GP

Matt Murray – .885 save percentage in 4GP

Carey Price – .889 save percentage in 4GP

And, special mention, Steve Mason – .831 save percentage in 2GP, and a 6.56(!) GAA.

Lightning round: team stats

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

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After signing with Devils, Will Butcher thinks he is ‘NHL ready’

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EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (AP) Will Butcher believes he is ready to play for the New Jersey Devils right now.

A day after signing a two-year, $1.85 million contract with the rebuilding Devils, the 22-year-old Butcher said he was ready to make the jump from being college hockey’s top player to the NHL without a stop in the minor leagues.

Speaking on a conference call, the defenseman said he chose to sign with New Jersey because he felt good after meeting coach John Hynes and he thought the Devils’ up-tempo system best fit his game.

Butcher was drafted in the fifth round by the Colorado Avalanche in 2013 at the Prudential Center – the Devils’ home rink. He became a free agent on Aug. 15 after failing to reach an agreement with Colorado, although the former University of Denver player said he knew by May he intended to test the free agent market.

After meeting with a number of teams, his decision came down to the Devils, Las Vegas, Buffalo and Los Angeles.

“It seemed like a great fit in how I wanted to play, and they saw me being in a better role with what they wanted to do there,” Butcher said of choosing New Jersey. “It kind of reminded me a little bit of how we were going to play with my college hockey.”

Butcher knows there will be competition to make the Devils’ roster with veteran defensemen Andy Greene, Ben Lovejoy, John Moore and Brian Strait and youngsters Damon Severson, Steven Santini and Mirco Mueller on the roster.

“I think my game is NHL ready,” Butcher said. “I think there is always stuff to learn and to pick up. That’s mostly the reason why I chose New Jersey, because I felt with coach Hynes (there) was the development and how they cater to guys and help you get ready for the NHL game.”

Butcher described himself as an offensive defenseman who can play defense.

“I am definitely more offensive than defensive,” he said. “I try to cater to my game in the sense of making smart decisions with the puck, joining the rush at the right opportunity and using my experience to help me play in the league that I want to play in.”

When asked what players would have a similar style to him he named Duncan Keith of the Blackhawks, Torey Krug of the Bruins and Greene.

“If I was fortunate to make the big team, he would be a great mentor to me, just because he does everything,” Butcher said of Greene. “He penalty kills, power play, all situations. He is a smart player, not necessarily the biggest guy, but he uses his abilities to defend well and play the game of hockey.”

Butcher could also help the Devils’ power play, especially feeding the likes of Taylor Hall, Adam Henrique, Kyle Palmieri and Marcus Johansson and newcomer Nico Hischier, the Swiss-born center who was the No. 1 pick in the June draft.

“I might not be the fastest guy or biggest guy out there, but I like to pride myself that I think fast and use my brain to be fast, in a sense that I try to anticipate plays and just try to use my hockey smarts to help me be effective,” Butcher said.

Besides helping Denver win the national championship this past season, Butcher won the Hobey Baker Award as the top collegiate player.

A Wisconsin resident, Butcher had seven goals and a team-high 30 assists in 43 games last season. He had 28 goals and 75 assists for 103 points in 158 games with the Pioneers.

Jacob Trouba could really make Jets pay with next contract

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This post is part of Jets Day on PHT…

Here’s something you come to realize if you nerd out about the league’s salary cap for long enough: not all bargain contracts are created equal.

Now, look, any GM worth his salt should be able to take advantage of those precious windows where players are exceeding the value of their deals. The 2009-10 Chicago Blackhawks are the gold standard in that regard: they won that first contemporary Stanley Cup thanks in part to Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane being on the last year of their rookie deals, allowing them that extra Dustin Byfuglien here and Brian Campbell there.

If a player is talented and healthy enough, you’ll eventually need to pay up. That’s why there’s some serious wisdom to locking down talented guys to longer deals when they’re especially young. (Just look at how ridiculous the deals look for, say, John Tavares and Duncan Keith.)

The Winnipeg Jets faced some serious contract impasses with Jacob Trouba and his agent Kurt Overhardt, yet eventually they enjoyed an eye-popping bargain. With the risk of sitting out a season hanging over his head, the RFA leverage was too much for Trouba, who signed for two years and $5 million.

Even with things oddly prorated, that’s a ludicrous steal for Trouba. And, of course, everyone said all the right things when a deal was reached, even as trade rumors festered into November 2016.

“I’ve committed to sign here,” Trouba said while confirming he’s rescinded his trade request, per the Winnipeg Sun. “When I signed that piece of paper, everything changed in my mind.”

A pessimist – and, possibly, a realist – might amend that last bit to “everything changed in my mind … for now.” (Possibly adding in some ominous music.)

When it comes to tough negotiations, we’ve seen some examples of short “bridge” deals that end up costly, and sometimes those same players end up traded somewhere else.

If you’re an emotionally vulnerable Jets fan, maybe just console yourself with Trouba remaining an RFA and scroll to a different post, because these examples might be less than ideal:

P.K. Subban: misses some of 2012-13, signs two-year, $5.75M deal with Montreal. Then he gets $9M per season for eight years, and traded to Nashville before 2016-17.

Ryan O'Reilly: strenuous negotiations lead to $6M at two years, making things awkward with the likes of Matt Duchene. Now makes $7.5M per year with Buffalo after being traded.

Ryan Johansen: Another Overhardt client whose relationship soured with his team. He was ultimately traded to Nashville, where he makes $8M per year thanks to that new deal.

(Note: Overhardt also represented Kyle Turris, who eventually left the Arizona Coyotes, who must wince every time he scores a big goal for the Ottawa Senators. As evidence that there’s another way, Overhardt appears to be Viktor Arvidsson‘s agent, so it’s not like he’ll outright refuse to sign longer deals that might ultimately benefit the teams involved. Of course, Arvidsson never had that contract-dispute-baggage with Nashville so …)

Now, before you claim that Trouba is far below those players, note that he has a season to compile more impressive counting stats with superior defensive partner(s) …. and he already shows potential from a “fancy stats” perspective. He seems to settle nicely into the top defenseman prototype, by HERO chart measures, as just one example:

With the right opportunities, Trouba could really drive up his value. Such motivation could be very beneficial for Winnipeg in 2017-18, but at what cost in the future?

In a recent edition of “The Hockey PDOcast,” Garret Hohl hypothesized that, while Trouba may compare to the likes of Seth Jones, he might end up costing the Jets more than the $5.4M per year that Jones receives with the Columbus Blue Jackets.

Beyond sheer inflation, one might ascribe some of that to something of a bitterness tax. The Jets got their bargain and won that battle, but much like with Subban and others, a talented player might just win the war.

Blackhawks need a push from young forwards Hartman, Schmaltz

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This post is part of Blackhawks Day on PHT…

The Chicago Blackhawks got an injection of youth into their group of forwards last season, with Nick Schmaltz and Ryan Hartman cracking the roster out of training camp.

Having prospects challenging for and earning roster spots is critical for every team across the league, especially with the speed of today’s game.

The Blackhawks have three Stanley Cup championships since 2010, all won with a core group of players like Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook.

But that group, which hasn’t made it out of the first round since 2015, is getting older, which highlights Chicago’s need for its young players like Schmaltz and Hartman to further their offensive contributions this upcoming season and beyond, and for someone like Alex DeBrincat to show well at camp and perhaps earn a spot in the NHL.

There is added pressure on a player like Toews heading into next season, after the lowest goal total of his career. How will Patrick Sharp perform back with this group at age 35? The Blackhawks also won’t have Marian Hossa, which, despite his age, is a huge loss.

That should highlight the need for Hartman, 22, and Schmaltz, 21, to take another step forward in their development.

In 76 games, Hartman had a nice 19-goal, 31-point campaign, his first full season in the NHL. His production dried up in the playoffs, though in fairness to him, the Blackhawks as a team were ultimately outmatched as Pekka Rinne played sensational in goal for Nashville and the Predators completed the sweep.

The 20th overall pick in 2014, Schmaltz played in 61 games for Chicago. His season included a stint in Rockford, where he had a productive six goals and nine points in 12 games before getting recalled to the NHL.

From the time of his recall until the end of the regular season, Schmaltz was able to put together a couple of extended hot streaks, with 12 points in nine games during a stretch from Feb. 8 to March 1, and seven points in six games from March 19-29. Again, Chicago’s brief time in the playoffs was a struggle and Schmaltz wasn’t immune.

There was a point late in the season, however, when coach Joel Quenneville believed Schmaltz made the proper steps forward. Of note, Quenneville has the option of using Schmaltz either on the wing or up the middle, he said earlier this summer.

“There’s definitely a learning curve when you first come into the NHL. Expectations are higher for some guys than others. But him getting down and getting some games [in Rockford], getting more confident offensively and with the puck, he added a little pace and another dimension to his game, we like how he’s playing during this recent stretch,” Quenneville told CSN Chicago.

“We like how he’s handled himself in a situation where, as the season’s gone on here, he’s gone to a different level.”

It would be one less thing for the Blackhawks to worry about if Schmaltz and Hartman took their games to a different level beginning in October.

Plenty of opportunity on revamped Blackhawks defense

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For almost a decade, Niklas Hjalmarsson was a mainstay on the Blackhawks’ back end, quietly providing some of the most effective defense in the league.

But with Hjalmarsson in Arizona now, traded to the Coyotes for the younger-though-less-proven Connor Murphy, it remains to be seen how Chicago’s blue line will roll out next season.

In addition to Hjalmarsson, the ‘Hawks also bid adieu to Brian Campbell, Johnny Oduya, and Trevor van Riemsdyk this offseason.

Add up all the good-byes, and that’s a lot of minutes to replace.

“We’re going to see when we’re putting the pairs together, whether we’re going to reunite [Duncan Keith] and [Brent Seabrook] or look for some balance,” head coach Joel Quenneville said, per CSN Chicago. “There are a lot of options. We’ll look forward to that and sorting it out.”

The way it looks right now, the top four will be comprised of Keith, Seabrook, Murphy, and Michal Kempny. That’s two left shots — Keith and Kempny — and two righties — Seabrook and Murphy.

Read more: After major changes, Bowman thinks Blackhawks are in ‘good spot’

The bottom pairing, though, is anyone’s guess. Newly signed Czech defenseman Jan Rutta is in the mix. But so too are Jordan Oesterle, Gustav Forsling, Ville Pokka, Erik Gustafsson, Viktor Svedberg, and possibly even Luc Snuggerud.

Once training camp starts, it’ll be up to those young players to prove themselves.

“Just the amount of opportunity that is in front of me just drives me even more,” said Oesterle, whom the ‘Hawks signed July 1. “I want to be here and force their hand to keep me here.”

Veteran Michal Rozsival is also under contract for next season. However, he turns 39 in September, and with all that youth champing at the bit, the Blackhawks will be hoping they won’t need him much, if at all.

Chicago’s defense in 2016-17, ranked by total time on ice